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The Life of the Archpriest Avvakum by Himself


In the spring of 2005, our city received a visit from Frederica Matthewes-Green, the once-Episcopalian now-Orthodox Christian writer. I went to hear her in a not very impressive Orthodox church (after Russia, I’m spoilt, I suppose.) In the wake of this I sent her an inquiry as follows:

I find your position on the Charismatic Renewal rather difficult to accept. In trolling the web, I find myself one of the few that has anything nice to say about it! Having been involved in it as a Roman Catholic, it is my conclusion that the Renewal failed in churches such as the Episcopal for two basic reasons:

  • It did not have the support of the hierarchy of the church, especially the hierarchy on the left. The left saw a mortal enemy in the Renewal and had more to do than the traditionalists in beating it down. Without support from the upper reaches of the church the Renewal was fighting a losing battle from the start, especially in Roman Catholicism.
  • The leadership of the Renewal lacked the experience and leadership skills to deal with the pastoral problems that arise with the exercise the spiritual gifts and manifestations. This could have been remedied with assistance from those who did have that experience–the classical Pentecostals–but they refused to help for a combination of cultural, theological and practical reasons.

Her response was as follows:

Thanks, Don. I am grateful for the Pentecostal / charismatic experience, which meant so much to me when I was first a Christian. My husband says that he thinks Pentecostals/ Charismatics are the largest group to convert to Orthodoxy among lay people (Episcopalians among clergy). It makes sense; Orthodoxy has the same vibrant belief in miracles and healings and the presence of God among us. It just also has the groundedness, wisdom, and heritage that helps keep those gifts from being out of control, as you note.

A friend of mine who is a reporter says that when he covers ecumenical events, the Catholics and Presbyterians are in one corner arguing about theology; the Pentecostals and Orthodox are in another corner talking about worship.

My response to that was as follows:

“groundedness, wisdom and heritage” Is this what happened to the Archpriest Avvakum and the Boyarina Morozova (whose arrest is portrayed by the Russian painter Surikov above)?

Needless to say, that ended the exchange. But the subject of the Archpriest Avvakum is too important (and fascinating) to ignore. To understand it we need to know a little background.

Avvakum (the Russian rendition for Habbakuk) was born in 1621. Becoming a Russian Orthodox priest at the age of twenty, he became involved in a renewal movement called the Bogoliubtsy (literally, the Lovers of God.) As with many renewal movements, things went well at first, but in 1652 Nikon became Patriarch. Nikon decided that the Russians were backward in their practice of religion relative to the Greeks, so he altered the ritual and liturgy to conform with that of the Greeks. Today we may find issues such as crossing oneself with two fingers vs. three as trivial, but Orthodoxy lives and dies on the purity and changelessness of their worship. The Lovers of God suddenly found themselves hated by the Patriarch (and later losing the support of Tsar Alexis) and persecuted with every means–many of which barbaric, such as burying people alive and cutting out their tongues–that could be mustered. Avvakum himself, after many exiles and imprisonments (many of which are described below) was burned at the stake in 1682.

Avvakum was a single-minded man whose love of God–which endured the relentless persecution by the church he loved–makes him an inspiration to Christians who do not share his Orthodox Christianity. His prose is exceptional too: he wrote in a vigourous style that raised vernacular Russian to the heights of great literature. Like Blaise Pascal, who did the same service for French in another struggle against change imposed from top (by the Jesuits,) he showed that those who are focused on the highest and best point (God Himself) can have clarity of prose driven by clarity of message.

But Avvakum’s story–and that of the Old Believers in general–puts much of what many claim for Orthodoxy today into question. To their credit, Orthodox churches are beginning to realise the mistake they made in the suppression of the Old Believers. Today we see many show Eastern Orthodoxy as the alternative to the chaos that many churches find themselves in. They do this based on an absolute continuity of Orthodoxy with the faith that Our Lord laid down, both in practice and in worship. We see from Avvakum’s experience that this claim cannot stand from a historical standpoint. We also see that Orthodox churches have been traditionally closely married to the state, and willing to use the state’s power to enforce their religion (as is still the case in Russia today.)

The translation we present below is that of G.P. Fedotov, and is taken from the Holy Trinity Orthodox School.

The Life of Archpriest Avvakum by Himself1

I was born in the region of Nizhny-Novgorod, 2 beyond the river Kudna, in the village of Grigorovo. My father, Peter by name, was a priest. My mother, Maria, took the veil under the name of Martha. My father was given to drink, but my mother practised prayer and fasting and constantly taught me the fear of God. One day I saw a neighbor’s ox fall dead, and that night I arose and wept before the holy icon, sorrowing for my soul and meditating upon death, since I likewise should die. From that time on it became my custom to pray each night. Then my mother was widowed and I became an orphan in my early days, and we were exiled by our kin. My mother decided that I should marry. I besought the Mother of God to give me a wife who would help me to attain salvation. In that same village there was a maiden, also an orphan, who was wont to go frequently to church, and whose name was Anastasia. Her father was the blacksmith, Marco, a rich man; but after his death his whole substance was wasted. The maiden lived in poverty, and she prayed to God that she might be united to me in marriage; and it was God’s will that this should come about. Then my mother returned to God after a life of great piety, and as for me, being turned out, I went to live in another place. I was ordained deacon at the age of twenty and priest two years later. I exercised the functions of ordinary priesthood for eight years and was then made archpriest by the Orthodox bishops, and that was twenty years ago; and I have now been in holy orders for thirty years.

Since the early days of my priesthood I have had many spiritual children, until now, some five or six hundred. I, miserable sinner, labored without rest, in churches and in houses, at the crossroads, in villages and towns, and also in the capital of the Tsar and in the Siberian land, preaching and teaching the word of God for some twenty-five years.

During the time when I was a priest, a young woman came to me for confession, burdened with many sins, having committed fornication and all kinds of sins against purity, and she began to tell them to me in detail, weeping in the church before the holy Gospels. But I, thrice-accursed physician, fell sick myself and burned inwardly with lecherous fire; it was a bitter hour for me. I lighted three candles and fixed them on the lectern, and placed my right hand over the flame and held it there until the lust was extinguished in me. Letting the young woman go, I removed my vestments, and having prayed, I returned to my home in great sorrow and distress. It was about midnight, and entering my house, I wept before the icon of Our Lord until my eyes were swollen; and I prayed fervently that God should separate me from my spiritual children, for the burden was too heavy for me and too difficult to carry. And I fell with my face to the earth, weeping bitterly. Then I slumbered, not knowing how I was weeping, and the eyes of my heart looked upon the Volga. I saw two golden ships sailing majestically; they had golden oars and masts, all was of gold. And each was manned only by a helmsman. I asked “To whom do these ships belong?” And they answered: “To Luke and to Lawrence.” These were two of my spiritual children who had led me and my household on the path of salvation and had died in God’s favor. Then I saw a third ship, and it was not adorned with gold but painted many hues: red and white and blue and black and ashen, of a beauty and excellence which the mind of man could not conceive. A radiant youth sat at the helm, and I cried: “Whose ship is this?” And he who sat at the helm answered: “‘Tis your ship; you may sail on it with your wife and children if such is your prayer.” I awoke all atremble, and sitting up I asked myself, “What does this vision mean, and whither will this voyage bear us?”

After a short time, as it has been written, “the sorrows of death compassed me, and the perils of hell found me. I met with trouble and sorrow.” An officer took away a maid, the daughter of a widow, and I implored him to give the orphan back to her mother. But he disdained our importunities and raised a storm against me. His men came to the church and crushed the life out of me; I lay senseless on the ground for half an hour or more. I came back to life by the will of God, and he, seized with fear, gave up the maid to me. Then the devil prompted him and he came to the church and beat me, and dragged me, in my vestments, on the ground, and I recited a prayer all the while.

Afterwards another officer found occasion to be moved with fury against me; he came running to my house, beat me, and buried his teeth in my finger like a dog. And when his throat was filled with gore, he released my hand from the clutch of his teeth and, leaving me, went home. As for me, I thanked God, bandaged my hand with a piece of linen, and betook myself to Vespers. As I was on my way that same man attacked me once more, with two small pistols. Standing close to me, he fired one of them. By the will of God, although the powder exploded in the pan, the pistol did not go off. He flung it on the ground and fired the other pistol, and the will of God was exercised once more and the pistol did not go off. I continued on my way praying fervently, and raised my hand to bless the officer and bowed to him. He cursed me, and I said to him: “Let grace be on your lips, Ivan Rodionovich.” He was enraged with me because of the chanting in church; he wanted it to be done with dispatch, and I sang the office according to the rule, without haste. Then he deprived me of my house and drove me out onto the road, plundering everything and giving me no bread for the journey.

At that time my son Procopy was born, the one who is now imprisoned underground with his mother. 3 I took my staff, and she the unbaptized child, and we went wherever God should speed us; on our way we baptized the child as, of old, Philip had baptized the eunuch. 4 When I arrived at Moscow and went to the Tsar’s confessor, Archpriest Stephen, and to Archpriest John Neronov, they both told the Tsar about me, and from that time on the Tsar knew me. The Fathers sent me back with a certificate of safe-conduct, and I dragged myself home; but the very walls of my house were destroyed, and I began to establish myself afresh, and again the devil raised a storm against me.

To my village came dancing bears with tambourines and lutes, and I, miserable sinner, full of zeal for Christ, drove them out. I broke the tambourines and lutes and smashed the clowns’ masks out in the field, I alone, against a great number. I took from them two great bears; one I struck senseless, but he revived, and I set the other loose in the fields. Because of this Vasily Petrovich Sheremetev, who was sailing down the Volga to Kazan, to assume the office of governor, summoned me aboard his ship. He upbraided me and ordered me to bless his son Matthew, whose face was shaven. But I did not bless him and reprimanded him from the Scriptures when I looked upon his lewd countenance. In great wrath the nobleman commanded that I should be thrown into the Volga. After I had been dealt many injuries, they cast me out. But afterwards they were good to me; we were reconciled in the Tsar’s antechamber, and Vasily’s wife became my younger brother’s spiritual daughter. Thus God leads his own. 5

But let me resume my narrative. Later on, another officer was infuriated against me. He came with his attendants to my yard and laid siege with arrows and pistol-shots. Meanwhile I cried out to God, “O Lord, do Thou tame and appease him, through what means Thou knowest best.” And he fled from the yard, driven by the Holy Ghost.

That night he sent his men to fetch me, and they cried out, weeping bitterly, “Father, Yefimy Stepanovich is close to death, and he is crying and moaning and beating his breast, saying, “I want Father Avvakum. God is punishing me on his account.” Thinking that this was a trap, I was seized with fear and prayed to God thus: “O Lord Who hast taken me from my mother’s womb, Who has brought me from nothingness into being! If I am strangled, do Thou sanctify me with Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow; 6 if they stab me, do Thou sanctify me with the prophet Zacharias; if they drown me, do Thou save me as Thou didst Stephen of Perm.” 7 Praying in this manner, I went to Yefimy’s house. As I was conducted into his yard, his wife Neonila came running out to meet me and seized my hand and cried, “Come, Father, my lord; come, our dear provider!” I answered, “‘Tis strange indeed! Yesterday I was ‘son of a harlot,’ and now I am ‘Father.’ Biting, in truth, must be the scourge of Christ! Your husband is quick to repent!”

She took me into his chamber. Yefimy leaped out of his feather bed and cast himself down at my feet, crying and muttering, “My lord, forgive me. I have sinned before God and before you!” And he was trembling all over. I said to him, “Do you want to recover your health?” He, lying at my feet, exclaimed, “Aye, my good lord.” I said, “Arise, God has forgiven you.” He was so badly stricken that he could not rise by himself. I lifted him and laid him on his bed, and confessed and anointed him with holy oil, and he was healed. Thus did Christ will it. In the morning he let me go with all civility, and he and his wife became my spiritual children, faithful servants of God. Thus does God scorn the scorners: and to the meek he will give grace.

Soon after this, others drove me out for the second time from this place. I dragged myself to Moscow, and by the will of God the Tsar ordered that I should be installed as Archpriest at Yurievets on the Volga. There too I remained but a short time, only eight weeks. The devil inspired the priests, the peasant folk and their women; so they came to the Patriarchal Chancery, where I was attending to ecclesiastical affairs, and they dragged me out of the chancery (they were about fifteen hundred strong); they beat me with rods in the middle of the street and trampled me on the ground, and the women beat me with oven-forks; for my sins I was beaten almost to death, and they threw me against the corner of the house. The governor came rushing up with his cannoneers and, seizing me, carried me off on horseback to my poor home; and he placed his men around the yard. Meanwhile the mob marched to the house, and they raised a great tumult in town; especially did the priests and the women whom I had warned against fornication shout, “Kill this thief and son of a harlot, and throw his body to the dogs in the ditch!”

As to me, having rested a while, I left my wife and children on the third day and fled by night up the Volga to Moscow with two companions. I should have liked to stop at Kostroma, but there too they had driven out Archpriest Daniel. Ah me, the devil stirs up trouble everywhere.

I got to Moscow, and went to Stephen, the Tsar’s confessor: he too made a wry face, saying, “Why have you abandoned your church?” So there was more trouble at hand. Then, in the middle of the night, the Tsar came to visit his spiritual father and to receive his nightly blessing, and he found me there, and there was more woe, since he asked, “Why have you left your city?” My wife and children and some twenty retainers had remained in Yurievets; I knew not whether they were alive or dead, and that was another calamity.

Soon after this Nikon, our friend, brought the relics of Metropolitan Philip from the Solovki Monastery to Moscow. Before he arrived, Stephen, the Tsar’s confessor, spent a week in prayer and fasting with the brethren on behalf of the patriarch (and I was with them), that God should grant us a pastor for the salvation of our souls. 8 Together with the Metropolitan of Kazan, we wrote, and signed with our own hand, a petition which we presented to the Tsar and Tsarina in favor of Stephen, that he should be made Patriarch. But Stephen would not have it so, and suggested Metropolitan Nikon. The Tsar followed his advice. He sent a letter, to be delivered on his way to Moscow: “To Nikon, the Most Reverend Metropolitan of Novgorod and Velikia Luki and of all Russia, greetings,” and so on. And once he was there, he was all bows and compliments with us, like a fox. He knew that he was going to be Patriarch and feared lest some obstacle should arise. There would be much to tell about these wily dealings. And when he was installed patriarch, he would not even let his friends enter his chapel, and soon he spewed forth all his poison.

During Lent 9 he sent a letter to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, 10 addressed to John Neronov. The latter was my spiritual father; I lived at his church and took charge of it when he was absent. It was said that I should have been appointed to the post of the late Silas at the Savior’s Church in the palace, but God had not willed it, and I myself had no great desire to be sent there. I loved the church of Our Lady of Kazan and was content to serve in it. I read holy books to the faithful, who came in great numbers. In his letter (dated such and such a year and month), Nikon wrote: “According to the tradition of the holy apostles and fathers, it is not fitting to make genuflections; suffice it to bow from the waist; and the sign of the cross must be made with three fingers.” 11 We assembled and reflected upon this. We saw that winter was near; our hearts were frozen, and our limbs shaking. Neronov entrusted the church to me and hid himself in the Chudov Monastery, where, in a cell, he spent a week in prayer. As he prayed, a voice came from the icon: “This is the time of tribulation: you must suffer without weakening.” He related this to me, weeping, also to Bishop Paul of Kolomna, whom Nikon afterwards had burned at the stake at Kostroma; then he likewise told all the brethren about it. With Daniel, I copied excerpts from the Holy Fathers concerning the fingers used in the sign of the cross and the bows to be made during prayer, and these were submitted to the Tsar. There were a great many of these excerpts, but I know not where the Tsar hid them; I believe he gave them to Nikon.

Soon after this Nikon ordered Daniel to be seized and had his head shorn 12 in the Monastery at the Tver Gates, in the Tsar’s presence. They tore his cassock from his back, and, heaping insults on him, took him to the Chudov Monastery and locked him in the bakery. After many torments had been inflicted on him, he was banished to Astrakhan; there he was crowned with a wreath of thorns, and they let him die in a dungeon.

After Daniel was shorn, they seized another Daniel, Archpriest of Temnikov; he was locked up at the New Convent of Saint Savior. Likewise, Nikon himself tore the biretta off Archpriest Neronov’s head and imprisoned him at the Simonov Monastery. Later on, he sent him to Vologda, to the Monastery of Saint Savior on the Rock, and then to Fort Kola. Because of the many sufferings he had endured, the poor man’s strength failed him, so he accepted the sign of the cross with three fingers and died in this state. Oh, woe and misfortune. Let him who thinks himself strong fear lest he stumble. These are the evil days when in accordance with our Lord’s words, even the elect shall be led astray by the Antichrist. We must pray to God most fervently that He may save us and forgive us, for He is full of mercy and loves mankind.

I too was arrested at Vespers by Boris Neledinsky and his musketeers. About sixty persons were arrested with me and taken to prison. As for me, I was put in chains and taken for the night to the Patriarch’s Court. And on Sunday, as soon as it was day, I was placed in a cart with my arms outstretched and driven from the Patriarch’s Court to the Monastery of Saint Andronicus. And I was thrown in chains into an underground cell. I spent three days in the dark, without food or drink, and in my chains I bowed in prayer, but whether to the west or to the east, I know not. Nobody came to my cell, only mice and cockroaches and chirping crickets and hordes of fleas. On the third day I was moved by the desire to eat-in other words, I was hungry – and, after Vespers, I saw someone standing before me; but whether it was man or angel I could not say, and cannot say even to this day, save that he uttered a prayer in the dark, and laying his hand on my shoulder, led me on my chains to a bench. He had me sit down and placed a spoon in my hand, and he gave me a little bread and some cabbage soup to eat, and it tasted good. Then, saying to me: “Enough. This will suffice for thy sustenance,” he vanished: though the door did not open, he was no longer there. This would have been a strange thing, had it been a man, but for an angel ’tis no wonder, since he can be stopped by no barrier.

In the morning the Archimandrite and the brethren came to fetch me and led me out of the cell; they chided me for refusing obedience to the patriarch, and I condemned him and inveighed against him from the Scriptures. They removed the heavy chain and put a lighter one on me, and gave me into the custody of a monk, with orders that I should be dragged to the church. Close by the church, they pulled my hair and poked me in the ribs and jerked me around on my chain and spat in my eyes. May God forgive them in this world and the next. This was none of their doing, but the work of Satan, the malicious one. I spent four weeks in that place.

After me, they seized Longin, Archpriest of Murom; he was shorn at Mass in the cathedral, in the Tsar’s presence. During the procession of oblation, the Patriarch took the paten with Christ’s body from the archdeacon’s hand and placed it on the altar; meanwhile Therapon, Archimandrite of Chudov, was standing with the chalice outside the altar, near the royal doors. Alas, such a division of Christ’s body was worse than the doing of the Jews! 13 Having shorn him, they tore his cassock and his kaftan off his back. But Longin was incensed with the fire of holy wrath; reproving Nikon, he spat into his eyes across the threshold of the sanctuary; undoing his girdle, he tore off his shirt and hurled it into Nikon’s face. O wonder! The shirt spread and covered the paten on the altar like a corporal. The Tsarina also was in the Cathedral at the time. Longin was put into chains, dragged outside the church and beaten with brooms and whips all the way to the Monastery of the Epiphany. And he was thrown into a cell and musketeers were set to guard him. But during the night, God gave him a new fur coat and a hat. In the morning Nikon was informed of this happening and laughingly exclaimed: “I know these would-be saints!” He took the hat away from him but left him the fur coat.

Afterward I was taken from the monastery and led on foot, arms outstretched, to the Patriarch’s Court. After a great deal of heckling, I was returned to my cell in similar fashion. On St. Nicetas’ day there was a procession, and I was taken out in a cart to meet it; and I was brought to the cathedral to be shorn, and during Mass, they kept me for a long time on the parvis. The Tsar left his throne and, going up to the Patriarch, asked him not to have me shorn. I was taken to the Siberia Office, where I was placed in the custody of the secretary, Tretiak Bashmakov (now Father Savvaty), who today is also suffering for Christ’s sake, imprisoned in an underground cell at the New Monastery of Saint Savior, may God save him. Even at that time he did me a kindness.

I was sent to Siberia with my wife and children. It would be a long tale, if I related all the tribulations we endured on our way; suffice it to say a little about them. During the journey Dame Avvakum gave birth to a child, and she was driven, sick, in a cart to Tobolsk. We travelled three thousand versts in thirteen weeks or so; we were dragged by cart, by boat or, half of the way, by sleigh.

In Tobolsk the Archbishop appointed me to a church, 14 and there I suffered great trials. In a year and a half, I was accused five times of treason against the Tsar. A certain Ivan Struna, secretary of the Archbishop’s Chancery, persecuted me; while the Archbishop was away in Moscow, Struna was inspired by the devil to fall on me. Without cause he tormented Deacon Anthony, and the latter ran away from him and came to my church. Ivan Struna called his attendants and also came to the church on another day. I was singing Vespers, and he rushed into the choir and clutched Anthony by the beard, while I closed the church doors and let no one in. Struna was alone in there, carrying on like the devil. And I, interrupting the office, seated Struna in the middle of the church with the help of Anthony and thrashed him with a leather strap for disturbance in church. And the others, about twenty strong, fled, driven by the Holy Ghost. Having received Struna’s repentance. I sent him home.

But Struna’s kinsmen, monks and priests, set the whole city astir in order to bring about my undoing. At midnight they came in a sleigh to my door and tried to break in and seize me, in order to have me drowned; but the fear of God dispersed them and made them turn back. For a month I suffered, having to hide myself; I would sleep one night at the church and another night at the governor’s house. I even begged to be locked in prison but was not admitted.

There came an ukase ordering that I should be taken away from Tobolsk, because I had condemned Nikon for his heresy, speaking from the Scriptures. At that time I received a letter from Moscow, informing me that two of my brothers, who lived in the palace in the Tsarina’s apartments, 15 had died of the plague, with their wives and children; and many others among my kinsmen and friends had also died. God had let flow on the Kingdom the vial of His wrath, and the wretched ones did not repent; they continue to cause trouble in the Church. Neronov had often warned the Tsar: There will be three visitations resulting from the schism in the Church: plague, the sword, division. And this is what has happened today.

But the Lord is merciful; having punished us, so that we may repent, He forgives us; having cured the ills of our souls and bodies, He will give us peace. I hope and trust in Christ, I await His mercy and expect the resuirection of the dead.

Once more I sailed in my ship, as had been shown to me in the vision already described. I made my way to the Lena River. When we reached Yeniseisk there came another ukase ordering me to Dauria, 16 twenty thousand versts and more from Moscow; I was to be given over to Afanasy Pashkov and his regiment. He had six hundred men under his command. He was a rough man, for my sins, and he burned, flogged and tortured people unceasingly. I had often tried to stay him, but finally I had fallen into his hands. From Moscow he had received Nikon’s orders to torment me.

After we left Yeniseisk, as we reached the great Tunguzka River, a storm almost wrecked my barge; it floated in midstream and filled with water, and its sails were torn. All but the deck was submerged. My wife, bareheaded, 17 pulled the children out of the water, and I, lifting my eyes to heaven, cried: “Lord, help us and save us!” By the will of God we were blown toward the shore. ‘Tis a long story to tell. Two men in another barge were pitched overboard and drowned. And we, having regained our composure on shore, resumed our journey.

As we came to the Shaman rapids, we met other folk sailing on the river; among them were two widows, one about sixty and the other even more advanced in age; they were on their way to a convent to take the veil. And Pashkov wanted them to turn back and be compelled to marry. I said to him: “According to the law of the Church, it is not fitting to have them married.” But instead of heeding my words, he became enraged and began to torture me. When we reached the Long Rapids, he started to push me out of the barge, saying: “Tis because of you that the barge makes such slow progress, you are a heretic. Go into the mountains, your place is not among Cossacks.”

Ah, poor me! the mountains were high, the forest dense; the cliffs stood like a wall, one could break one’s neck looking up at them. In these mountains live great snakes, and geese and ducks with red feathers fly overhead, black crows and grey jackdaws. In these mountains there are also eagles and hawks and gerfalcons and guinea-fowl, pelicans and swans, and other wild birds of different kinds in great numbers. And many beasts roam likewise in these mountains: wild bucks and deer, aurochs, elks, boars, wolves, wild sheep, which are plainly to be seen but cannot be captured.

Pashkov wanted to cast me out into these mountains, to live among the birds and beasts. So I wrote him a short letter, and it started thus: “Man, fear God, Who sits on the Cherubim and Who watches over the abyss, before Whom tremble the heavenly powers and all creatures, including man. You alone despise Him and cause disturbance,” and so on. There was much I wrote in that letter, and I had it taken to him. About fifty men came running, and they took my barge and towed it to where he was, about three versts away. I cooked some porridge for the Cossacks and fed them, poor souls; they were eating and trembling at the same time, and some of them wept out of pity for me.

When the barge was towed ashore, the executioners seized me and led me before him. He stood, sword in hand, and shaking. First he asked me: “Are you a true pope 18 or an unfrocked one?” I answered: “I am Avvakum, Archpriest. Speak, what is it you want of me?” He roared like a wild beast and struck me on one check and then on the other, and beat me on the head, and knocked me down, and seizing his battle-axe, he struck me three times on the back, as I lay there. Then, tearing off my garment, he applied seventy-two strokes of the whip on that very same back of mine. And I cried: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, help me!” And I repeated these words unceasingly, and he was sorely vexed, because I did not say: “Have mercy.” At each stroke of the whip, I recited the prayer; then, in the middle of the thrashing, I cried out: “Enough of this beating,” and he ordered the thrashing to be stopped. I asked him: “Do you know why you beat me? Why?” And once more he ordered that I should be struck in the ribs, and then they let me go, I trembled and fell. And he had me placed in the ammunition-boat; they fettered me hand and foot and threw me onto a beam. It was autumn, and rain beat on me all night. I lay under the downpour. While they had been flogging me, I had felt no pain, thanks to my prayer, but now, as I lay there, a thought crossed my mind: “Son of God, why didst Thou permit such a hard beating? Did I not defend Thy widows? Who shall be the judge between Thee and me? When I was committing evil Thou didst not afflict me so cruelly. And now, I know not in what way I have sinned.” Ah, what virtue I displayed! I, another dung-faced pharisee, dared to take issue concerning the Lord’s justice! If Job could speak thus, it is because he was just and sinless; moreover, he did not know the Scriptures, for he lived outside the Law in the land of barbarians, and knew God through the creation. As to myself, I am first of all a sinner; and secondly, I am supported by the Law, fortified in all things by the Scriptures, “We must through much tribulation enter the Kingdom of God.” And I had committed such folly. Woe to me! How was it that the boat did not sink with me?

Then it was that my bones began to ache, and my veins grew taut, and my heart failed me and I was near death. They blew water in my mouth, and I breathed again and repented before the Lord. The sweet Lord is merciful; he forgets our former transgressions in view of our repentance. And once more nothing pained me.

In the morning they threw me into a small boat and towed it along. We reached the great Padun Rapids, where the river is one verst wide. There are three steep reefs stretching across the river. If you do not sail through the channel, your craft will be smashed into splinters. I was brought to the rapids; it was raining and snowing, and I had on nothing but a thin kaftan. The water splashed over my back and belly. Great was my distress! They took me out of the boat and dragged me in chains over the rocks round the rapids. It was painful, but good for the soul, and this time I did not murmur against God. I recalled the words of the prophets and apostles: “Whom the Lord loveth, He chastiseth: and He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth … For what son is there whom the father doth not correct?” And with these words I was comforted.

Then I was taken to Fort Bratsky and thrown into jail, and given a little straw. I remained there till St. Philip’s fast, 19 in a frozen tower; it is already winter at that time in this land, but God warmed me in want of clothing. I lay like a little dog on the straw; some days they would feed me and some days not; there were a great many mice, and I hit them with my biretta -the fools would not even give me a stick. I lay all the time on my belly: my back was sore, and there were many fleas and lice. I wanted to cry out to Pashkov: “Pardon!” but God’s will forbade it and ordered me to be patient. Later I was transferred to a warm house, and there I spent the winter in chains with the hostages 20 and the dogs. My wife and children had been sent far from me, some twenty versts away. And all that winter she was plagued and rebuked by her servant Xenia. My son Ivan, a small lad, came to stay with me for a while after Christmas. Pashkov had him thrown into the cold cell where I had lain. He spent the night there, poor dear lad, and almost froze to death. In the morning, he was sent back to his mother. He reached home with his hands and feet frozen.

In spring we went once more on our way. There was not much left of our supplies; all had been pilfered; even books and clothing and utensils had been stolen. On Lake Baikal again I came close to drowning. Pashkov made me pull the towing-rope on the Khilok River; it was a hard run, and no time for eating or sleeping. All summer I was tormented by this towing in the water. The men died, and my feet and belly were swollen. Two summers we towed in the water, and in winter we had to haul on dry land. It was on that river Khilok that, for the third time, I was nearly drowned. The boat was carried away; the other boats remained near the shore, but mine was seized and drawn by the current. My wife and children had remained on shore, but I was carried away with the helmsman. The stream was swift, it turned the boat upside down, and I crawled onto it, crying: “Our Lady, help! Our Hope, do not drown us!” Now my feet would be under water, and then again I would scramble onto the boat; we drifted a verst or so, and then the men caught us. Everything was soaked through and through. But what is to be done if such is the will of the Mother of God? I came out of the water laughing, but the men heaved many sighs and spread my clothing on the bushes: coats of satin and taffeta and some other trifles which still filled the chests and sacks. From that day on everything went to rot. We were without clothing. Pashkov wanted to give me another beating: “You have made yourself a laughing-stock!” But I once more entreated the good Mother: “Gracious Queen, stop that fool.” And she, Our Hope, appeased him, and he took pity on me.

That spring we began to sail on rafts down the Ingoda River. This was my fourth year of navigation since I had left Tobolsk.

We floated lumber for the building of houses and forts. There was nothing to eat; men died of hunger, and from working in the water. Shallow was the river and the rafts heavy, the taskmasters pitiless, the sticks hard, the cudgels knotty, the whips cutting, our sufferings cruel: fire and rack and people starving! One more stroke and a man would fall dead. Alas, what times were these! I know not how he could lose his mind in this way.

My wife had only one cloak left that had not rotted. It would have been worth twenty-five rubles in Russia, and more over here, but he gave four sacks of rye for it, and they lasted one or two years, while we lived on the river Nercha, eating mostly grass. He let all his men die of hunger; there remained a small troop, roaming through the steppes, digging for roots and grass, and we did as the others. In winter we fed on pine-bark, and sometimes, by luck, on horse flesh and the carcasses of beasts killed by wolves. What the wolves did not devour, we ate. And some would feed on frozen wolves and foxes and every other kind of filthy beast they could find. If a mare foaled, the foal was devoured in secret, together with the caul. When Pashkov heard about it, he would have them flogged to death. 21 Sometimes the mare would die because she had not been allowed to foal naturally: they tore the foal out as soon as the head appeared, and they drank the foul blood. Ah, what sad times were these!

I also lost two small sons in those hard days. They roamed the hills with the others, naked and barefoot on the sharp stones, feeding on grass and roots as best they could. I myself, miserable sinner, had to eat that horse-flesh and the foul carcasses of bird and beast. Alas for my sinful soul! Who shall freshen my eyes with the source of tears, that I may weep over my poor soul, for having lost itself to the delectations of the world!

But we were helped in Christ by the lady Eudokia Kirillovna, daughter-in-law of Afanasy, the governor, also by his wife, Fekla Semenovna. They preserved us secretly from starvation and death by sending us, without his knowing anything about it, now a piece of meat, now a loaf of bread, sometimes a little flour and oats, whatever she could gather, ten pounds, and some money, and even sometimes as much as twenty pounds. Or else she would scrape up some food from the chickens’ trough.

My daughter, the poor maid Agrippina, would secretly go up to her window. It made us feel like weeping and laughing at the same time. Sometimes they would drive her away, without the lady being warned, but sometimes she would come home with an armload. She was then but a small child; she is twenty-seven today and still a maid, living in Mezen with her two younger sisters, in grief and uncertainty. Her mother and brother are imprisoned underground. But what can be done about it? Let them all suffer bitterly for Christ’s sake. So be it, with God’s help. It is fitting to suffer for the Christian faith. This Archpriest formerly enjoyed intercourse with the great, and now, poor wretch, let him delight in suffering to the end; for it has been written: Blessed is not he who begins, but he who perseveres to the end. But enough on that subject. Let us resume our previous topic.

These great calamities lasted six or seven years in the land of Dauria, but sometimes there was a respite. Yet he, Afanasy, unceasingly sought to bring about my death, upon all kinds of charges. During this time of calamity he sent me two widows, Mary and Sophia, two women-servants of his, who were possessed by the devil. He had tried sorcery and spells of all kinds on them, but saw it was of no avail, that rather, a tumult was arising. They would shriek and writhe in convulsions. So he called me and, bowing to me, said: “Take these two and doctor them by prayers.” I answered: “My lord, this is above my strength. But through the prayers of the holy fathers, everything is possible to God.” So I took the poor women home, may it be forgiven me! I have had some experience of these matters in Russia, where three or four possessed would sometimes be brought to me, and through the prayers of the holy fathers, the devils would be cast out by the command and through the action of the loving God and our sweet Lord Jesus Christ: I would sprinkle them with tears and water and would anoint them with holy oil, and would chant some prayers in Christ’s name, and the divine power would cast out the evil spirit, and the man would be healed, not through my own or any other person’s merits, but because of these men’s faith.

So the possessed women were brought to me. According to custom, I fasted and made them fast; I prayed and anointed them, and performed all that I saw fit. And the women were cured and became sound of mind. I confessed them and gave them Communion. They lived under my roof and prayed, and they loved me and did not go home. He learned that I had acquired two spiritual daughters, and was again greatly enraged against me; and, more than ever, he wanted to burn me alive: “You have extorted my secrets from them!” he cried. Now how could I have given them Communion without confession? And without Communion the evil one cannot be entirely cast out. The devil is not a poltroon; he does not fear the cudgel: he fears the Cross of Christ, holy water and holy oil, but he is completely routed before the body of Christ. I know not how to heal otherwise than by these sacraments.

In our Orthodox faith, Communion cannot be given without confession; it is done in the Roman faith, where confession is neglected, but for us who practise Orthodoxy, it is not fitting; in any case we must seek penance.

Pashkov took the two widows away from me. Instead of thanks, all I received was abuse. He thought that Christ’s work had been perfected, but the women carried on more evilly than before. He locked them up in an empty house, letting no one go near them, and summoned a monk to attend them, but they threw logs at him, so he dragged himself away. In my home, I wept, knowing not what I should do. I dared not go to his house, for his animosity towards me was very great. I sent them holy water in private, telling them to wash in it and drink it: so they, poor things, were somewhat relieved. Then they visited me secretly, and I anointed them in the name of Christ, and once more, thank God, they were healed, and they returned to their home; but they would come running to me under cover of darkness to pray to God. They became good spiritual children; all derangement left them, and afterwards they went to live with their lady at the Voznesensky Monastery. Glory be to God for them.

From the Nercha River we turned back once more to Russia. For five weeks we drove on icy roads in our sleighs. They gave me two nags to draw the children and the baggage. Dame Avvakum and myself journeyed on foot, stumbling on the ice. We travelled through a barbarous land, the natives were hostile; we dared not lag behind and could not keep up with the horses. We were hungry and weary. Dame Avvakum, poor thing, tramped on and on, and then she would fall. It was exceedingly slippery, and once another man, no less weary, stumbled over her and fell too. Both cried out and could not get to their feet again. The man cried: “Oh, good mother, dear lady, pardon me!” And she: “Do you want to crush me?” I came up to her, and she, poor lady, put all the blame on me: “How long, Archpriest, are we to suffer thus?” I answered: “Until our very death, Markovna!” And she replied, with a sigh: “So be it, Petrovich, let us plod on.”

We had a little black hen that would lay two eggs a day for the feeding of our children, by the will of God, helping us in our need. Thus had the Lord ordained. But during our journey by sleigh, the little hen was crushed to death, for our sins, and even today I am sorry for that fowl, every time I think of her. ‘Twas no ordinary hen, but a real miracle-worker; she laid her eggs all the year round and every day; a hundred roubles for her? – spittle and trash! That little bird, a creature of God, fed us, and would peck in the pan where our broth of pine was cooking; or else, if we had fish, she would peck at it too, and she would give us two eggs a day. Glory to God, who has ordered all things well!

The way we got that little hen was extraordinary too. All our lady’s hens had become blind and were dying; she placed them in a basket and sent them to me: “Let Father come and pray for the hens.” And I said to myself, she is our provider and has small children, she needs these chickens. I chanted prayers, blessed the water, and sprinkled the hens with it and incensed them. Then I went into the woods and made them a trough to feed in, and sprinkled it and sent it to her. The fowl recovered and grew strong, by the hand of God and thanks to the lady’s faith. Our hen was of that brood. But enough of this; ’tis nothing new, that Christ does these things. Cosmas and Damian in their day blessed and healed both man and beast in the name of Christ. All things are good in the eyes of God. Cattle and fowl have been made for the glory of the great undefiled Lord, and also for the good of man.

Then we journeyed back to the Lake Irgen. My lady took pity on us, and sent us a pan of wheat, and we had pudding to eat. Eudokia Kirillovna was out true provider, but with her too the devil prompted me to quarrel, and this is how it happened. She had a son, Simeon, who was born in that land. I had churched the mother and baptized the child, and each day she sent her son to me, that I should bless him; I would bless him with the cross and sprinkle him with holy water, and kiss him and let him go. The child was healthy and strong, but one day, when I was away, he became sick. The lady, angry with me and faint of heart, sent the baby to a witch-doctor. When I was informed of this, I was angry with her in turn, and so there was a bitter quarrel between us. The child grew worse, his right arm and leg became like sticks. Seized with remorse, she knew not what to do, and God struck even more heavily. The child was well-nigh dead, and the nurses came to me weeping, and I said: “Since she’s a wicked woman, leave her alone!” And I waited for her repentance. I saw that the devil had hardened her heart, and I prayed for her, asking the Lord to bring her back to reason. And the Lord, God of mercy, freshened the arid fields of her heart; in the morning, she sent me her second son, John. Weeping, he begged my forgiveness for his mother, bowing low by my stove. I was lying on the stove, naked under some birch-bark; Dame Avvakum was in the stove, and the children lying about here and there. It was raining, and we had nothing to cover ourselves with, and water was leaking through the roof into our shack. We were managing as well as we could. In order to mortify the lady, I sent this message to her: “Tell your mother to beg Aretha, the witch-doctor, for this grace.” Then they brought the child to me; she ordered him to be laid before me. They were all weeping and bowing. I rose, picked up my stole from the mud, and found the holy oil; having prayed and incensed the child, I anointed him and blessed him with the cross. And he – it was God’s action – was healed, and his hand and leg became sound. I gave him holy water to drink and sent him back to his mother. Observe, you who listen to me, how great a virtue there is in a mother’s contrition; she healed her own heart and restored her child’s health. But what of that? ‘Tis not only from this day that there is a God for penitents.

In the morning, she sent some fish and pies for us, who were starving; indeed it was a timely gift. From that day on, I made my peace with her. After she came back from Dauria, she died in Moscow, dear little lady, and I buried her in the Assumption Monastery.

Pashkov had heard the story of the child; she had told him about it. Then I went to him and he said, bowing low: “God save you, you have been a father to us, you have forgotten our evil doings.” It was his favorite grandson; he had baptized the child and had been deeply grieved on his account. And at that time he sent us much food.

But soon he wanted to put me to torture once more; listen to the reason for this: He had sent his son Jeremy on a military expedition to the kingdom of the Mongols. There were seventytwo Cossacks and twenty native soldiers with him. And he ordered one of the natives to act as “shaman” – that is, a soothsayer: Would the campaign be successful and would they return victorious? Now one night this magician brought a live ram close to my but and started to work his spell over it; he spun the ram round and round, twisted its neck off, and cast away its head. Then he started jumping and dancing and invoking the devils; with loud shouts, he flung himself on the ground, foaming at the mouth. The devils pressed upon him, and he asked them: “Will the campaign be successful?” And the devils answered: “You will return with great fame and much booty.” The captains were delighted and they all joyfully declared: “We shall come back rich!”

Oh, my heart was bitter, and it has not yet softened! Bad shepherd that I was, I lost my sheep. In my grief I forgot what is said in the Gospels when the sons of Zebedee questioned Our Lord about the stubborn townsmen: “Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them? And turning, He rebuked them, saying: You know not of what spirit you are. The son of man came not to destroy souls, but to save. And they went into another town.” But I, accursed one, did not do this! In my sheepfold, I cried out to God: “Hear me, Lord, hear me, radiant King of Heaven, let not one of them return! Prepare a grave for them all in that land. Visit evil upon them, visit them, O Lord; let them perish, so that the diabolical prophecy may not be fulfilled.” And I uttered many other words to that effect, and in secret I prayed to God silently in like manner. They told him about these prayers I had said, but he was content with reproving me. He sent his son with the soldiers. They left by night, under the stars. Then I began to pity them; in a vision I saw, with the eyes of my soul, their defeat and massacre – and I had called down this disaster upon them! Some of them came to bid me farewell, and I said to them: “You shall perish in that land.”

As they departed, their horses began to neigh and the cows to low, the sheep and goats to bleat, the dogs to howl, and the natives likewise began to howl like dogs. Panic had gripped them all. Jeremy sent me an urgent message – “Lord Father, pray for me” – and I was full of pity for him. He was my friend in secret and had suffered for me. When his father beat me, he had tried to stay his hand, and Pashkov had pursued his son with his sword.

And so they rode away to war. I had pity on Jeremy and began to solicit God most urgently to spare him. They were expected home, but on the appointed day they did not return. Pashkov would not let me come near him. He had a torture-chamber made ready and a fire lighted; he intended to torture me. I recited the prayer of the dying, for I knew his kind of cooking, and that few survived his fire. I waited for them to come and seize me; and sitting there, I said to my wife and children: “Let God’s will be done. ‘For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord.'” Marvellous are the works of God, and ineffable the ways of the Lord! For at that very moment Jeremy, wounded and accompanied by another horseman, rode past my house and yard. He beckoned to the executioners and led them away. Pashkov came out of the torture-chamber and went to meet his son like a man drunk with grief. Then, having exchanged greetings with his father, Jeremy related to him everything in detail: how his troops had been massacred to the last man and a native had helped him escape through desert country; how he had roamed for seven days over rocky hills and in the forests, without food (he had eaten one squirrel); and how in his sleep there had appeared to him a man resembling me, who had shown him the way and had blessed him; and joyfully springing to his feet, he had found the right way. As Jeremy was telling his story to his father, I came in to greet them both. And Pashkov, lifting his eyes to me – the very image of a white sea-bear he was – was ready to devour me alive, but the Lord would not deliver me to him.

He only heaved a sigh and said: “So that’s what you’ve been doing! How many men have you destroyed?” But Jeremy said to me: “My lord Father, pray you, go home and say nothing.” And I went away.

For ten years he torrhented me-or I him, I know not which! God will decide on the day of judgment. Then he was appointed to a new post, and I received a letter; I was to return to Moscow. Pashkov left but did not take me with him. He said to himself: “If he journeys alone, the natives will kill him.” He sailed in boats with men and weapons, and I learned from the natives that he was shaking with fear. One month after his departure, I gathered the old, the sick and the wounded, who were of no use over there, about ten men – with my wife and children, seventeen persons in all – and we got on a boat; trusting in Christ and with a cross on our prow, we sailed by the grace of God, afraid of nothing.

I gave the bailiff the Book of the Pilot (of the Canon Law), and he in exchange gave me a pilot to steer our boat. And I ransomed my friend Basil, the same one who, under Pashkov, had denounced his companions and shed their blood, and who had sought my own head. One day, after beating me, he was going to impale me, but once again, God saved me. After Pashkov left, the Cossacks wanted to kill him, but I obtained his pardon in the name of Christ, and I paid the ranson and took him to Russia, out of death to life. Let the poor wretch repent of his sins. And I took with me another lout of the same breed; they would not give him up to me, and he ran away into the woods to escape death; waiting until I should pass by, he threw himself weeping into my boat. They started in pursuit of him, and I knew not where to hide him. Then, may I be pardoned, I committed a sin; as Rahab, the harlot of Jericho, hid the men of Joshuah, the son of Nun, even so did I hide him in the bottom of the boat, and threw our bedding over him and told Dame Avvakum and my daughter to lie down. The men hunted everywhere for him but did not disturb my wife. They only said to her: “Take some rest, mother, you have suffered enough grief.” And I, forgive me for the love of God, lied at that time, saying: “Nay, he is not here.” I did not want to give him up to destruction. So, having looked all around, they went away, and I took him back to Russia.

The bailiff gave me some ten pounds of flour and a cow and six lambs and some dried meat. We lived on that all summer on the river. He was a good man, that bailiff. He had been godfather to my daughter Xenia. She was born in Pashkov’s days, and he would not give me chrism and oil; so she had not been christened for a long time. I baptized her after he was gone. I myself churched my wife and baptized the children, with the bailiff as godfather and my elder daughter as godmother, while I acted as priest for them. In the same way I baptized my son Afanasy, and saying mass on the Mezen, I gave him Communion. I confessed my children and gave them Holy Communion, but could not do so for my wife, it is thus written in the Canon Law, and we must act accordingly.

Thus we left Dauria. Food became scarce, so I prayed to God together with my companions, and Christ sent us a buffalo, a huge beast. Thanks to this we reached Lake Baikal. A number of Russians had come to the shores of this lake, sable-hunters and fishermen. They were glad to welcome us, and they dragged our boat high onto the rocky shore. The good Terenty and his companions wept at the sight of us, and we looked at them. They gave us plenty of food, as much as we needed, about forty fresh sturgeons, saying: “Let this be your share, Father, God put them in our nets, take them all.” I bowed to them, blessed the fish, and told the fishermen to take it back. What should I do with so much food? After we had stayed with them for awhile, I had to accept some of their supplies, and having repaired our boat and rigged up a sail with a woman’s old smock, we started across the lake.

During the crossing the wind fell, and we had to use our oars. In that place the lake is not very wide, only eighty to one hundred versts or so. When we reached the other shore, a storm began to blow up, and we could scarcely land because of the waves. From the shore rose steep hills and sheer cliffs. I have dragged myself twenty thousand versts and more, but never have I seen such high mountains. And their summits are crowned with halls and turrets, pillars and gates, and walls and courts, all made by the hand of God. In those hills grow garlic and onion, the bulbs larger than those of Romanov onions, and very sweet. And there is also hemp, sown by God’s hand, and in the courts, beautiful grass and sweet-smelling flowers. There are wild fowl in great number geese and swans floating on the lake, like snow. And there are also fish: sturgeon and salmontrout, sterlet and omul and white-fish, and many other kinds. This is a fresh-water lake, but great seals and sea-hares live in it. I never saw the like in the great ocean, when I lived on the Mezen River. And the fish is abundant; the sturgeon and salmon-trout are so fleshy, one cannot fry them in a skillet, it would be nothing but fat. And all this has been created by Christ for man, that he should find pleasure in it and praise God. But man, who is enslaved by vanity – his days pass like a shadow; he leaps, like a goat; he puffs himself out, like a bubble; he rages, like the lynx; seeks to devour, like a serpent; at the sight of another’s beauty, he neighs like a foal; is wily, like the devil; having had his fill, he falls asleep without observing the rule of prayer. He puts off repentance until the day when he shall be old, and then he is vanished, I know not where, into the light or into the darkness. It shall be revealed upon the day of Judgment. Pardon me, I have sinned more than any man.

Then we reached the towns of Russia, and I became aware, concerning the Church, that “it prevailed nothing, but rather a tumult was made.” I was saddened, and sitting myself down, I reflected: What am I to do? must I preach the word of Christ or go into hiding? For I was bound to wife and children. Seeing my distress, Dame Avvakum came up to me respectfully and asked: “What troubles you, my lord?” And I told her everything in detail: “Wife, what shall I do? ‘Tis the winter of heresy. Shall I speak or be silent? You have shackled me.” And she replied: “God forgive! What say you, Petrovich? Did you not read the words of the Apostle: ‘Art thou bound to a wife, seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek no wife.’ I and the children bless you. Continue to preach the word of God as fearlessly as before, and be not concerned about us, as long as God shall allow it. If we are separated, then do not forget us in your prayers. Christ is mighty and will not abandon us. Go, go to church, Petrovich, and convict the heretics of their whoredom!”

At these words, I bowed to her, and, having shaken off my grievous blindness, I began once more to preach the word of God and to teach in towns and everywhere, and boldly to condemn Nikon’s heresy.

I spent the winter at Yeniseisk; that summer I sailed once more, and I spent the second winter at Tobolsk. And on my way to Moscow, in all the towns and villages, in churches and in market-places, I cried out, preaching the word of God, teaching, and condemning the godless heresy. Then I arrived in Moscow. It had taken me three years to journey from Dauria; and to reach that land, I had toiled upstream for five years. In those days, I had been taken further and further east, amidst the camps and dwellings of the natives. It would take much telling. Several times I fell into the hands of the natives: on the great river Ob, twenty Christians perished before my eyes, and having taken counsel concerning me, they let me go. Another time, on the Irtish River, they assembled in wait for our men from Berezov and their boat, in order to slay them. Unaware of their designs, I went to them and landed on their shore. They surrounded us, armed with bows, and I went up to them and embraced them as if they were monks, saying: “Christ be with me and with you also.” And their hearts softened toward me, and they brought me their wives. Dame Avvakum played the hypocrite with them, in the flattering way of intercourse in the world. So the women were coaxed into kindliness – and it is well enough known that when women are kind, then all are kind in Christ. So the men put away their bows and arrows. I bought some bear furs from them, and they let me go. When I arrived in Tobolsk, I related what had happened, and everyone marvelled, for throughout Siberia, Bashkirs and Tatars were at war in those days, and I, trusting in Christ, had journeyed among them. When I reached Verkboturie, my friend Ivan Bogdanovich Kaminin was also greatly surprised at seeing me. He asked me: “How did you pass through?” I answered: “God carried me through, and His most Holy Mother guided me. I am afraid of no one. I fear Christ alone.”

Then I arrived in Moscow and the Tsar received me joyfully, as if I were an angel of God. I went to Fedor Rtishchev; 22 he came out of his chamber to meet me, asked for my blessing, and we talked for a long while: he would not let me go for three days and three nights, and then he announced my presence to the Tsar. The Tsar immediately received me in audience and spoke to me kindly: “How fares it with you, Archpriest? God has let us meet once more.” I kissed his hand and pressed it, answering: “God lives and my soul lives, Tsar, my Lord! From now on, It will be as God ordains.” And he, dear soul, sighed and went to attend to some business. We had spoken a few words more, but it is no use recalling them, it all belongs to the past. He ordered that I should be given lodgings in a monastery in the Kremlin; when he passed my house, he would bow to me, saying: “Bless me and pray for me.” One day, as he rode by on horseback, he took off his hat. And when he drove in a carriage, he would lean out of the window to see me. And all the boyars did as much, each one bowing to me: “Archpriest, bless us and pray for us.”

How should one not pity such a Tsar and such boyars? Yes, indeed, they are to be pitied. See how good they were, offering me parishes to choose from, and even suggesting that I should become confessor to the Tsar, if only I would consent to be reunited to them. I counted all this as dung, that I might gain Christ, thinking of death, for all these things pass away.

When I was still in Tobolsk, I had received a warning in a light sleep: “Beware that you be not slit in two by Me.” Seized with great fear, I sprang to my feet and fell before the icon, saying: “Lord, I shall not go there, where they chant the office according to the new way.” I had attended Matins at the Cathedral for the namesday of a princess; I had committed the folly of entering that church in the presence of the governors; and upon my arrival, two or three times I had watched the celebration of the oblation, 23 standing in the sanctuary near the sacrificial table; and I had reproved them for the way they celebrated, but when I grew accustomed to it, I did not scold any more. I was stung by the spirit of the Antichrist. And my dear Lord Christ put fear into my soul: “Do you want to perish after so much suffering? Beware lest I slit you in two.” I did not go to the Mass, but I went to dine with the prince and told them everything. And the good boyar, Prince Ivan Andreievich Khilkov, 24 began to weep. Accursed am I, if I forget God’s mercy.

They saw that I was not going to be reconciled with them. So the Tsar ordered Rodion Streshnev to persuade me to be silent. And I did so, in order to please him. He was the Godestablished Tsar, and good to me. I hoped he would advance little by little. On St. Simeon’s day 25 I was promised an appointment to the Printing Office, to correct the books, and I was extremely pleased; I liked this better than being confessor to the Tsar. He did me a favor, sending me ten rubles, and the Tsarina gave me ten rubles; and Lucas, the Tsar’s confessor, ten; and Rodion Streshnev, ten. As for my old friend Fedor Rtishchev, he told his treasurer to put sixty rubles in my bonnet – to say nothing of the others. Each one brought me something or other.

I spent all my time with my dear Feodosia Prokofievna Morozova, for she was my spiritual daughter; and so was her sister, Princess Eudokia Prokofievna, dear martyrs in Christ! I likewise visited Anna Petrovna Miloslavsky constantly, and I went to Fedor Rtishchev, to have disputes with the apostates. I lived in this manner for about half a year.

Then I saw that “it availed nothing” in the Church, “but that rather a tumult was made,” and so I began once more to grumble. I wrote a long letter to the Tsar, asking him to reestablish the old ways of piety, to defend our common mother, Holy Church, against heresy, and to place on the patriarchal throne an Orthodox pastor instead of the wolf and apostate Nikon, scoundrel and heretic. When I had finished writing, I fell seriously ill; and I sent the letter to be given to the Tsar on his journey by my spiritual son, Theodore, fool in Christ, who was afterwards hanged by the apostates on the Mezen. Theodore boldly approached the Tsar’s carriage, letter in hand, and the Tsar had him arrested and taken under the grand staircase of the palace. He did not know that the letter was from me. Then, taking it from Theodore’s hands, he let him go.

From that time on the Tsar was hostile towards me. He did not like my speaking again. He wanted me to be silent, but this did not suit me. And the bishops sprang on me like goats. They wanted to exile me once more from Moscow, for many came to me in Christ’s name, and, when they had heard the truth, gave up attendng their mendacious services. The Tsar reprimanded me: “The bishops complain of you, they say you have emptied the churches. You shall be exiled once more.” It was Boyar Peter Mikhailovich Saltikov who brought me the message. They took me to Mezen. The good people had given me many things in the name of Christ, but I had to leave everything behind and was accompanied on my journey only by my wife, children and family. And again I taught the people of God in the towns and condemned the piebald beasts. So they brought me to Mezen. 26 After holding me there a year and a half, they took me back to Moscow with two of my sons, Ivan and Procopy. Dame Avvakum and all the others remained at Mezen. Having brought me to Moscow, they first took me to the Monastery of St. Paphnutius. 27 And there they sent me a message, always repeating the same thing: “How long will you torment us? Reunite yourself with us, dear brother Avvakum.” I rejected them like the devils, and they flew into my eyes. And I wrote a long and wrathful declaration and sent it through Cosmas, deacon of Yaroslavl and clerk in the Patriarch’s chancery. This Cosmas was I know not what kind of man. In public he tried to persuade me, and in private he upheld me, saying: “Archpriest, do not renounce the old (way of) piety. You will be a man great in the eyes of God if you suffer to the end. Do not heed us if we perish.” And I said to him that he should return to Christ. He answered: “This I cannot do; Nikon has caught me in his snares.” To say the truth, the poor man had renounced Christ for Nikon and could not get back on his feet. I wept, blessed him, poor wretch; that was all I could do for him. God knows how it will go with him.

Thus, after I had spent ten weeks in chains at the Monastery of St. Paphnutius they took me back to Moscow, an exhausted man on an old nag; a guard behind me, a guard in front of me. Whip your horse and on you ride! At times, the horse would fall into the mud, its four legs in the air, and I tumbling over its head. One day we galloped ninety versts and I was half dead at the end of it. In Moscow, at the Patriarch’s chapel, the bishops held a disputation with me. Then I was led to the cathedral, and after the Great Entry I was shorn, together with Deacon Theodore; they cursed me, and I cursed them. Great indeed was the tumult at that Mass. Having stayed some time at the Patriarch’s Court, I was taken by night to the Chamber of the Palace. There a colonel examined me and sent me to the Secret Gates on the Waterfront. I supposed that they would throw me into the river, but here Dementy Bashmakov, the man of Private Affairs and the agent of Antichrist, awaited me. He said to me: “Archpriest, the Tsar ordered me to tell you: ‘Fear no one; place your trust in me.’ I bowed to him, saying: “My thanks for his favor. What security has he for me? My trust is in Christ.” Then they led me over the bridge to the other bank of the river, and on my way, I said to myself: “Put not your trust in princes, in the children of men in whom there is no salvation.”

Then officer Joseph Salov and his musketeers took me to St. Nicholas’ Monastery at Ugresha. 28 They sheared off my beard, the enemies of God! And why not? They are wolves and have no pity for the sheep. They tore off all my hair – the dogs! – leaving but a forelock, such as the Poles have on their heads. They drove us to the monastery, not along the roads, but through marshes and mire, so that people should not see us. They were well aware of their folly, but were unable to give it up. The devil had clouded their minds. How can we blame them? Were it not they, it would be others. The time is at hand when, according to the Gospels: “It must needs be that scandals come.” And the other evangelists teaches us: “It is impossible that scandals should not come. But woe to him through whom they come.”

Take heed, you who listen to me: Our misfortune is inevitable, we cannot escape it. If God allows scandals, it is that the elect shall be revealed. Let them be burned, let them be purified, let them who have been tried be made manifest among you. Satan has obtained our radiant Russia from God, so that she may become crimson with the blood of martyrs. Well planned, devil! It pleases us, too, to suffer for our dear Christ’s sake.

At St. Nicholas I was locked up in a cold hall above the icecellar for seventeen weeks. There I had a vision sent by God. You may read about it in my letter to the Tsar. 29 And the Tsar came to the monastery and walked around my prison and sighed, but did not come in to see me. They had prepared the road and sprinkled it with sand. He thought and thought, and did not come in. I think he pitied me, but such was the will of God. When I had been shorn, there had been a great dispute at the palace between the Tsar and the late Tsarina. The dear lady was at that time on our side, and she had preserved me from mutilation. 30 There would be much to say about that. May God forgive them. I do not hold them responsible for my sufferings, not even in the other world; it is fitting that I should pray for them, alive or dead. The devil has cleft us in two, but they were always kind to me. Enough of this.

Then they took me once more to the monastery of St. Paphnutius and locked me up in a dark hall and kept me in chains for a little less than a year. Here Nicodemus, the cellarer, was good to me in the beginning, but hater he became cruel, poor wretch. He well-nigh suffocated me, blocking the windows and the door, so that there was no vent for the smoke. The nobleman Ivan Bogdanovich Kaminin, a good man, who provided an endowment for the monastery, came to see me; he reprimanded the cellarer and tore off the shutters of bark and all the rest, and from that day on I had a window and air to breathe. But why be surprised at that cellarer? He had drunk of that tobaccoplant, sixty pounds of which were discovered at the house of the Bishop of Gaza, together with a lute and other objects for merrymaking. 31 I have sinned, forgive me; ’tis none of my business, but his own; let him stand or fall before his Master. I just happened to mention it. Such were the teachers of God’s law most favored among them.

On Easter day I asked this cellarer Nicodemus to let me breathe and sit awhile on the threshold before the open door. But he abused me and cruelly refused my request; such was his whim. Then, when he went to his cell, he was taken mortally sick, so that he was anointed and given Communion, and he could scarcely breathe. This took place on Easter Monday, and on Tuesday night, there came to him a man resembling me, holding a censer in his hand and clad in radiant vestments. Having incensed Nicodemus, he took him by the hand and raised him, and he was healed. That very night Nicodemus came to my dungeon accompanied by his serving-man. On his way, he said: “Blessed is this monastery for containing such a dungeon! Blessed is the dungeon for containing such sufferers! Blessed also are the fetters!” And he fell at my feet, seizing my chain and saying: “Forgive, in the name of the Lord, forgive me, for I have sinned before God and before you. I have offended you, and therefore God has punished me.” I asked him: “Tell me, how did God punish you?” And he: “You, yourself, came, and having incensed me, you did me the favor of raising me. Why do you conceal this?” And the servant who stood at his side added: “Lord Father, I myself led you out of the cell, supporting you and bowing to you. And you came back here.” I ordered that this secret should be revealed to no one. He asked my advice, how he should live from now on for Christ. Should I order him to go and live in the wilderness? I admonished him and bade him not to give up his functions of cellarer, but to observe, at least in secret, the old traditions of the Fathers. He, having bowed to me, retired, and next morning, at the refectory, he related everything to the brethren. Then people came to me boldly and openly, requesting my prayers and my blessing.

And I taught them from the Scriptures and healed them with the word of God. At that time, even such enemies as I had, made peace with me. Alas, when shall I emerge from this time of vanity? It has been said: “Woe to you when men shall bless you.” In truth, I know not how I shall endure to the end. Good deeds there have been none, and yet God glorified me. He knows, ’tis His will!

There also came to me in secret, with my children, the late Theodore, the same that was to be hanged. He consulted me: “Shall I wear my shift, as before, or must I put on other garments? The heretics are after me, seeking to destroy me.” And he said: “I was at Riazan, under penance, in the Archbishop’s court, and he, Hilarion, tormented me cruelly. Few days passed without a thrashing, and he held me in chains, forcing on me the new sacraments of the Antichrist. I was exhausted, and in the night I prayed and wept, saying: ‘Lord, if Thou dost not save me, they will defile me and I shall perish. What then wilt Thou do to me?’ And thus I went on, weeping; and suddenly, Father, my chains fell rattling to the ground, and the door was unlocked and opened of itself. Bowing before God, I went forth; I came to the gates, and they too were open, so I took the Moscow road. At dawn they started in pursuit on horseback. Three men rode past me without seeing me. Trusting in Christ, I went my way. And soon they turned back and passed me once more, complaining: ‘The son of a harlot has escaped us, where shall we find him now?’ And again they rode by and did not see me. And finally I reached Moscow. Now I have come to ask you: Must I go on suffering tortures, or shall I put on garments and live in Moscow?” And I, miserable sinner, ordered him to put on garments and to live in obscurity among men. But I did not save him from the hands of the heretics. They had him strangled on the Mezen, hanging him on the gallows. Eternal remembrance to him and to Luke Lavrentievich. My dear little ones, they suffered for Christ’s sake! Glory be to God for them!

That Theodore had led a life of great austerity. In the daytime he behaved like a fool in Christ, 32 and he spent the night in weeping and praying. I have known many a good man, but never such an ascetic. He stayed with me six months in Moscow; I was still sick at the time. We lived in the back room. He would lie down for not more than an hour or two, and then he would rise and make a thousand prostrations; and at other times he would sit on the floor, or stand, weeping for three hours at a time. Meanwhile, I would lie there, sleeping or restless with pain. And he, having wept his fill, would come up to me, saying: “Look here, Archpriest, how long will you lie there? Only think, you are a priest! Shame upon you!” And he would end by dragging me out of bed; and he made me say my prayers seated there, he doing the prostrations for me. He was my friend true of heart.

And now I shall tell you again about my tribulations. From St. Paphnutius, they took me back to Moscow and placed me in the court of the Monastery. And they dragged me many times to the Chudov Monastery, before the ecumenical patriarchs; and our bishops all sat there like foxes. 33 I discussed many things with the patriarchs in the words of the Scriptures. God opened my sinful lips and Christ confounded them. Their last words to me were: “Why are you stubborn? All our people of Palestine, and the Serbs, and the Albanians and Valachians and Romans and Poles, all cross themselves with three fingers. You alone in your obstinacy cross yourself with two fingers. This is not fitting.” And I, miserable wretch, how bitter I felt! But I could do nothing. I reproved them as well as I could, and my last word was: “I am uncorrupted, and I shake the dust from my feet, for it is written: ‘better is one that feareth God, than a thousand ungodly.’ ” So they cried out even louder against me: “Take him, take him, he has dishonored us all.” And they began to shove me and beat me. And the patriarchs themselves rushed at me; about forty of them, I believe – ’twas a great army of the Antichrist that had mustered. Ivan Uvarov seized me and dragged me along; and I cried: “Hy, wait, don’t beat me!” They staggered back and I said to the interpreter, an archimandrite: “Tell the patriarchs: Paul the Apostle says: ‘It was fitting that we should have such a high-priest, holy, innocent,’ and so forth. But you, how shall you celebrate Mass after beating a man?” Then they were seated, and I retired to the door and lay down on my side, saying: “Stay seated, and I shall lie down for a while.” They laughed and said: “This Archpriest is a fool, without respect for patriarchs.” I answered: “We are fools for Christ’s sake … we are weak but you are strong, you are honorable, but we are without honor.” Then the bishops returned and began to discuss the Alleluia, and Christ helped me to confound their Roman heresy with the help of Dionysius the Areopagite. And Euthymius, the cellarer of the Chudov Monastery, said to me: “You are right; it is of no use to discuss anything further with you.”

So they put me in chains; the Tsar sent an officer and musketeers, and they led me to the Vorobiev hills. With me were the priest Lazarus and the monk Epiphanius, shorn and abused as if they were village peasants, the dear souls! A man in his senses could only weep at the look of them. But let them suffer, why be troubled on their account? Christ was better than they, and yet – our beloved! – He had to suffer as much from their forefathers, Annas and Caiaphas. Why wonder at the men of today? They imitate their model. It is on their account we should be troubled, the wretches! Alas, poor Niconians! You shall perish of your wicked and stubborn tempers!

Then we were returned to Moscow, to the court of the St. Nicholas Monastery, and again they sought from us a profession of orthodoxy. And the gentlemen of the bedchamber, Artemon and Dementy, were sent to me many a time, and they repeated the Tsar’s words to me: “Archpriest, I know your innocent, spotless, and godly life. I ask your blessing, together with the Tsarina and my children. Pray for us.” Thus spoke the messenger, bowing, and I always wept for the Tsar. I had the greatest pity for him. And he went on: “I pray you, listen to me, reunite yourself with the ecumenical patriarchs, at least in part.” I answered: “Let me die if God wills it so, but I will not be reunited with the apostates. You are my Tsar – but they? – what have they got to do with you? They have lost their own Tsar, and now they drag themselves here to devour you! I will not lower my arms, which are lifted to heaven, until God shall give you back to me!” There were many messages of this kind. One thing and another was discussed. Their last word was: “Wherever you are, do not forget us in your prayers.” Even today, miserable sinner that I am, I pray for him as well as I can.

Then, after mutilating our brothers, but not me, they banished us to Pustozersk. 34 From there I wrote two letters to the Tsar, the first one short, and the second, longer. I told him various things, among them, of certain signs that God had shown me in my prisons. Let him who reads understand. Moreover, I and the brethren sent, as a gift to the followers of the true faith in Moscow, the Deacon’s manuscript entitled Answer of the Orthodox, along with a condemnation of heresy and apostasy. It declared the truth about the dogmas of the Church. And two letters were also sent to the Tsar by the priest Lazarus. And for all this, we too received some gifts in return: in my house on the Mezen they hanged two men, spiritual children of mine, Theodore, the fool in Christ already mentioned, and Luke Lavrentievich, servants of Christ.

At that time came the order that my own two sons, Ivan and Procopy, should be hanged, but they, poor wretches, lost their heads and missed the chance to seize the crown of victory; fearing death, they made submission. So, with their mother, were they imprisoned underground. There you are: death in the absence of death! May you repent in your prison, while the devil thinks of some other device. Death is terrifying? Little wonder! There was a time when Peter, the dear friend of Christ, was a traitor, and went out and wept bitterly, and was forgiven because of his tears! So why should we wonder about these children! ‘Twas because of my sins that their weakness was permitted. Well, so be it. Christ has power over our forgiveness and our salvation!

After that, the same officer Ivan Yelagin who had been with us at Mezen came to Pustozersk, and he received from us a profession which ran thus: “Such and such a year and month. We inalterably observe the traditions of the Holy Fathers, and we anathematize the heretical assembly of Pa•sius, the Patriarch of Palestine, and his followers.” And this profession declared many other things, and Nikon, the maker of heresies, received his share in it. For this we were taken to the scaffold, and the verdict was read to us; I was taken to prison without mutilation. The verdict stated: “Let Avvakum be imprisoned in a wooden framework underground and be given only bread and water. In answer, I spat. I wanted to starve myself to death, and did not eat for eight days and more, until the brethren ordered me to eat again.

They took the priest Lazarus and cut his tongue out of his throat; there was little blood, and soon it stopped flowing. And he went on speaking, without a tongue. Then, placing his right hand on the scaffold, they cut it off at the wrist, and as the severed hand lay on the ground, the fingers disposed themselves for the sign of the Cross according to tradition – and the hand remained thus for a long time for people to see, making its profession of faith, poor thing! I myself marvelled at this; the lifeless condemning the living! On the third day I put my finger in his mouth; it was smooth, tongueless, but he felt no pain. God healed him in no time. In Moscow they had cut part of his tongue, some of it had remained. But this time, they plucked it out entirely. And for two years he could speak as clearly as though he had a tongue. After two years there was another miracle: in three days there grew in his mouth another tongue only a little blunt, but he praised God constantly and condemned the apostates.

Then they took the hermit from Solovki, a monk of strict observance, the elder Epiphany, and also cut out the whole of his tongue and severed four fingers from his hand. And at first he spoke with difficulty. Then he prayed to the immaculate Mother of God, and in a vision two tongues were shown to him: the tongue of Moscow and that of this land, suspended in mid-air. Taking one of them, he placed it in his mouth, and from that day on he could speak clearly and distinctly, and a perfect tongue grew in his mouth. Marvellous are the works of God and ineffable the ways of the Lord. He permits execution, and then again heals and forgives. But why speak of it at length? God is of old a miracle-worker.

Then they covered us with earth. They placed a wooden framework under the earth and another one nearby, and a common enclosure around them with four locks, and guards were placed before the prison doors. And we, imprisoned here and everywhere – sing before our Lord Christ, Son of God, a canticle such as Solomon sang as he looked upon his mother, Bathsheba.

Having first gone from us to Mezen, Pilate 35 journeyed to Moscow. And in Moscow the rest of us were roasted and baked. They burned Isaiah and they burned Abraham, and a great many other champions of the Church were annihilated. God will count their numbers. It is amazing that the Niconians refuse to regain their senses: they propose to establish the faith through fire, whip and gallows. Who were the apostles that taught them these things? I do not know. My Christ did not order His apostles to teach in this way, to lead men to the faith with fire, whip and gallows. He commanded the Apostles: “Go ye into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature.” 36

Now I beg the forgiveness of every true believer: there are things concerning my life of which perhaps I ought not to speak. But I have read the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Paul: the Apostles said of their deeds, when God was working through them: “Not unto us but to our God be the praise.” And I am nothing. I have said and I repeat: I am a sinner, a fornicator and a ravisher, thief and murderer, friend of publicans and sinners, and to every man a wretched hypocrite. So forgive me and pray for me; and I must pray for you who read me or listen to me. I can do no better, and what I do, I relate to men; let them pray to God for my sake. On the day of judgment they shall know my actions, for good or evil. I am untaught in words, but not in knowledge; I am not learned in dialectic, rhetoric and philosophy, but I have Christ’s wisdom within me. As the Apostle says: “Although I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge.”

Forgive me, and concerning my ignorance, I shall moreover tell you the following: yes, I foolishly transgressed my spiritual Father’s law; and because of this my house was punished. Listen, for the love of God, how this came about: at the time when I was still an ordinary priest, the Tsar’s confessor, Archpriest Stephen Vonifatievich, gave me as a blessing the icon of Metropolitan Philip and the book of St. Ephraem the Syrian, for my own profit and for that of others. But I, wretched one, ignoring the fatherly blessing and instructions, bartered that book against a horse of my cousin’s, because of his insistent demands. At that time my brother Yefimy was staying with me; he was experienced in the reading of books and zealous for the Church. Later he became the chief lector of the elder Princess, but died of the plague along with his wife. This Yefimy fed and watered the horse and cared for it in every way, very often neglecting his prayers on that account. God beheld our unrighteous conduct: I bartering the book and my brother neglecting prayer and giving all his attentions to a beast. And the Lord deigned to punish us in the following manner: devils began to torment the horse day and night; it was continually in a sweat and a state of exhaustion, more dead than alive. I did not as yet understand why the devil was after us. Once on Sunday, after supper, my brother Yefimy was reciting, at Lauds, the 119th psalm. Crying out: “Look down upon me and have mercy on me,” he dropped the book and fell to the ground, struck down by the devil, and he began to shriek and howl in dreadful tones, for the demons were tormenting him cruelly. I had staying with me two other brothers of mine, Cosmas and Gerasim, and although they were larger than he, they could not restrain him. And all those of my household, some thirty persons or so, were holding him and weeping and crying out: “Lord, have mercy upon us, we have sinned before Thee, we have outraged Thy bounty, have mercy upon us, miserable sinners! By the prayers of our Holy Fathers, forgive this youth!”

But he, even more bedevilled, howled and trembled and writhed in convulsions.

But at that moment, with the help of God, I did not let myself be troubled by that diabolical tumult. Having recited my Office, I prayed with tears to Christ and the Mother of God, saying: “Our Lady, most Holy Mother of God! Pray, show me for what sin I have deserved such punishment, so that knowing it, I may repent before your Son and you, and commit this sin no more!” And, weeping, I sent to the church, for the breviary and holy water, my spiritual son Symeon, about the same age as my Yefimy, fourteen years old or so; these two youths, Yefimy and Symeon were friends and associates, sustaining and comforting each other with books and prayer, both living in strict fasting and penance. Symeon wept over his friend, went to the church and brought back the book and the holy water. I started to recite over the bedevilled youth the prayers of Basil the Great, and Symeon assisted me; he tended the censer and the candles, and offered me the holy water; all the others held the possessed. I said the words of the prayer: “In the name of the Lord, I command thee, mute and deaf spirit, go out of this creature, do not reenter into him, but go into the deserts, where man liveth not, and God alone looketh down.” But the devil did not obey and did not go out of my brother. And again I repeated these words, but the devil did not obey, but tormented my brother even more than before. Oh, misfortune upon me! How shall I tell this? I am ashamed and do not dare! But according to the orders of the elder Epiphanius, I shall describe the way in which it occurred.

I took the censer and incensed the icons and the possessed, and then I fell on the bench and wept for a long time. Then, rising, I repeated the prayer of St. Basil and cried to the devil: “Go out of that creature.” The devil twisted my brother into a ring, and, writhing, went out of him and sat on the window; and my brother was like one dead. I sprinkled the window, and the devil came down and hid in the millstone corner; and my brother pointed at him, and again I sprinkled. The devil then climbed onto the stove, and my brother pointed there. Once more I sprinkled the holy water, and my brother pointed under the stove and crossed himself. I did not pursue the devil any further, but I gave my brother holy water to drink in the Lord’s name. And he sighed from the very depths of his heart and spoke to me thus: “God save you, Father, for having freed me from the prince of devils and his two princelings. My brother Avvakum will thank you for your kindness. And God bless that youth who went to fetch the book and the holy water and helped you to fight them. He was in the likeness of my friend Symeon. They brought me to the river Sundovik, and there they beat me, saying: “You have been delivered to us because your brother Avvakum bartered his book against a horse and because you loved that beast. So tell your brother to take the book and pay back the money to his cousin.” I said to him: “I, dear soul, am your brother.” And he answered: “How should you be my brother? You are my Father, you took me away from the prince and the princelings; as for my brother, he lives at Lopatishchi, and he will thank you.” 37 I gave him some more holy water to drink, and he took the vessel from my hands and wanted to drain it, so sweet was that water to him. And when there was no more, I rinsed the vessel and again made him drink, but he rejected it. I spent all that winter night tending him. I lay a while at his side, and then I went to Matins; and in my absence, the devils once more assailed him, but less vigorously.

When I came back from church, I anointed him, and again the devils went out of him and he was sound of mind. But he was weak, broken by the devils; he would glance at the stove and become fearful; when I left, the devils would return. I fought the devils like dogs for three weeks for my sins, until I took the book back and paid for it with money. I went to see my friend, Abbot Hilarion; he offered a particle from the Eucharistic bread for my brother’s recovery; in those days Hilarion led a good life, but since becoming Archbishop of Riazan, he has been a persecutor of the Christians. And I requested the help of other ecclesiastics for my brother; by their prayers they obtained forgiveness for us, miserable sinners, and my brother was freed from the devils. Such was the punishment for transgressing my father’s commandment. How, then, shall we be punished for violating the commandments of the Lord? Ah, we shall deserve but fire and torment! I know not how to pass my days! I am full of weakness and hypocrisy and enmeshed with lies! I am clothed with hatred and self-love! I am lost because I condemn all men; I think of myself as something, whereas I – accursed! – am but excrement and rot, yea, dung! Foul of soul and body. ‘Twould be good if I lived with pigs and dogs in their kennels; they too are evil-smelling, like my soul. Their stench is from nature, but I am evil-smelling because of my sins, like a dead dog left lying in the streets of the city. God bless the bishops who buried me underground; at least, giving out stench to myself for my sins, I offer no scandal to others. Yea, this is good.

And in Moscow also, upon my return from Siberia, I had with me a possessed man, Philip by name. He was chained to the wall in the corner of the house, for the devil in him was harsh and cruel, he beat and fought, and no one in my household could master him. And when I, miserable sinner, came up to him with the cross and holy water, he became obedient, and fell senseless before the cross of Christ and dared do nothing against me. And with the prayers of the Holy Fathers, the devil was cast out of him by the power of God, but his mind was not wholly restored. He was cared for by Theodore, the fool in Christ, who was afterwards hanged on the Mezen by the apostates. He recited the psalms over Philip and taught him the prayer of Jesus. I myself would be absent from my house in the daytime and could tend Philip only at night. One day I returned from Fedor Rtishchev filled with depression, for at this house I had engaged in much noisy quarreling with the heretics concerning the faith and the law. Meanwhile there was disorder in my own house: Dame Avvakum had quarreled with a servant-woman, the widow Fetinia; the devil had precipitated them into unreasoning anger against each other. When I entered the house, I beat them both and gave them great offence, because of my own sour temper: I sinned before God and before them. And then the devil was aroused in Philip and began to break his chain, raging and shrieking horribly. The servants were seized with panic, and there was a great tumult. I, without having repented, went up to him, wanting to tame him, but things did not go as usual. He seized me, and started to beat and thrash me, tearing at me as if I were a cob-web, crying out: “You have fallen into my hands!” I recited a prayer, but prayer without deeds is of no use. The servants could not tear me out of his hands; I gave myself up to him. I knew I had sinned, so let him beat me! But God works miracles: he beat me, but I felt no pain. Then he thrust me away from him, saying: I do not fear you.” And I was much aggrieved, saying to myself: “The devil has the better of me!” I lay down for a while and collected myself. Rising, I went and found my wife, and with tears asked her forgiveness, bowing to the ground before her and saying: “Nastasia Markovna, forgive me, miserable sinner. And she bowed to me in the same way. And I asked likewise Fetinia’s forgiveness. Then I lay down in the middle of the room and ordered each man to beat me with a scourge, each giving me five strokes on my wretched back. There were about twenty people, and my wife and children, and they all lashed me, weeping. I said: “He, who does not beat me, shall have no share with me in the Kingdom of Heaven.” And they beat me unwillingly and with tears, while I recited a prayer with each stroke. When every one of them had scourged me, I rose and asked their forgiveness, and the devil, seeing that it was inevitable, again went out of Philip. And I blessed him with the cross, and he was as before. Later, he wholly recovered, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Glory be to Him!

When I was an ordinary priest and had but begun my striving for perfection, this is the way the devil terrified me. My wife fell sick and her spiritual Father came to visit her. In the dead of night I went to the church to get the book for her confession. As I entered the porch, there was a small table there, which, by the devil’s device, began to jump about where it stood. And I, fearing nothing, prayed before the icon, and going up to the table, I made the sign of the cross and put it back into its place, and it stopped dancing around. As I came to the nave, there was another trick of the demons: a corpse lay in its coffin on the bench, and through a device of the devil, the lid of the coffin was lifted, and the shroud began to wave about, filling me with fear. And I, praying to God, blessed the dead, and everything was as before. As I entered the sanctuary, I saw the chasubles and dalmatics flying around, to frighten me. But I prayed and kissed the altar and blessed the vestments, and going up, touched them, and they hung motionless as before. So I took the book and left the church. Such are the devices of the devil against us. But enough of this! What is the power of the cross and of holy oil unable to perform on the possessed and on the sick, by the grace of God! And we must remember this: not for our sake and because of us, but to His own name doth God add glory. I who am but mud, what could I do, were it not for Christ? It befits me to weep about myself. Judas was a miracle-worker, but because of his greed for money, fell into the devil’s hands. And the devil himself was in heaven, but was cast out because of his pride. Adam was in paradise, but was driven out of it for his gluttony and condemned to hell for 5,500 years. Knowing this, let every man who believes he is able to stand, beware lest he fall. Clasp the feet of Christ and pray to the Mother of God and all the saints, and all will be well.

And so, my Elder, you have heard a great deal of my cackle. In the name of the Lord, I order you to write likewise for the servants of Christ, relating how the Mother of God broke that devil in her arms and gave him over to you, and how the ants devoured the secret part of your body, and how the demon set fire to your wood, and your cell was burned, but everything in it remained intact, and how you cried out to heaven, and what else you may recall for the glory of Christ and the Mother of God. 38 Listen, then, to what I say: If you do not write, I shall be angry. You listened to me with enjoyment – why, then, be ashamed? Relate it, if only a little. At the Council of Jerusalem the Apostles Paul and Barnabas told “what great signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.” And the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And we find many instances in the Epistles and the Acts. And so, speak without fear, only keep a firm conscience. Say that you do not seek your own glory, but that of Christ and the Mother of God. Let the servant of Christ rejoice reading this account. When he reads us and we are dead, he will remember us before God. And we shall pray to God for those who read us and listen to us. They shall be our kin, there, at Christ’s side, and we shall be theirs, for ever and ever, Amen.


1 There are three versions of Avvakum’s life, known in Russian scholarly research as A., B., and C. One manuscript of the first version is in Avvakum’s own hand; the others are obviously copies done by Old Believers. In 1927 the three texts were simultaneously published (after a number of earlier editions) by the Leningrad Academy of Science in the series: “The Russian Historical Library” as Volume XXXIX, devoted to the history of the Old Believers in the seventeenth century. The three texts offer several variations, but as I. L. Barskov writes in his introduction, all three present indubitably Avvakum’s own story, and he himself may have introduced the variations while the Life was being copied. Avvakum sent this story to a number of his spiritual children and to groups of Old Believers – wherefor, the copying. But, as Barskov points out, none of his contemporaries would have dared or would have been able to invent new episodes or to add new facts to the Life. It is Avvakum’s own voice we hear in each one of these documents. The translator has mainly used the version A (Avvakum’s autographed text), but has also borrowed from the other texts, episodes and variations which are either particularly characteristic and colorful or which help to clarify the sequence of the events narrated.

2 The city of Nizhny-Novgorod, situated at the middle of the Volga River’s course, is once again called that, being Gorkiy in Soviet times.

3 They were imprisoned in a subterranean dugout.

4 Acts 8: 26-39.

5 Some objects of Avvakum’s zeal for reform: the trained bears, like all kinds of theatrical or musical or jugglers’ entertainments, were prohibited by the Church; the shaving was condemned by the “Stoglav” Council of 1551, yet began to be practised in the seventeenth century under Western influence.

6 St. Philip was deposed and strangled by the order of John IV (called “The Terrible”).

7 St. Stephen, a missionary bishop among the heathen Finnish tribe of Zyrians in Northern Russia (fourteenth century).

8 The patriarchate had just become vacant with the death of Joseph (1652).

9 In 1653.

10 Our Lady of Kazan, now St. Basil’s Cathedral, the famous church on the Red Square in Moscow.

11 The main point of difference between the old and the new rites is the number of fingers used in making the sign of the cross: two for the Old Believers, three for the Established Church.

12 This is part of the rite of the degradation of a priest.

13 With his usual realism regarding ritualistic symbolism, Avvakum sees the sundering of Christ’s body in the obviously new ritual gesture of the Patriarch, who took the paten and the chalice separately from the deacon.

14 Since Avvakum had not been degraded (shorn) like his colleagues, he was accepted in Tobolsk as a parish priest.

15 The Tsarina Mary Miloslavsky, the first wife of Alexis, was in sympathy with the Old Believers.

16 Dauria was the name given in the seventeenth century to the country on the left bank of the Amur River. The Russians had recently undertaken the conquest of this country, and Pashkov was the captain of the expedition.

17 It was considered indecent for a married woman to go bareheaded.

18 Pope means priest in ancient and popular Russian.

19 November 15, in 1656.

20 Hostages from the native tribes (in Bratsky it was the Buriats) were kept in Siberian forts to secure the payment of tribute.

21 The eating of “unclean” food was considered a great sin.

22 Rtishchev was an influential boyar and one of the most cultivated and tolerant statesmen of the seventeenth century.

23 The preparation of bread and wine for the Eucharist which constitutes the first part of the Eastern Mass.

24 An influential boyar and a personal friend of Tsar Alexis.

25 September 1, 1662, the day of New Year in old Russia.

26 The Mezen is a river discharging itself into the White Sea eastward from Arkhangelsk. There, on the sea coast, was a small Russian settlement (now the town of Mezen).

27 St. Paphnutius Monastery at Borovsk, about one hundred miles from Moscow.

28 About ten miles from Moscow, on the Moskva River.

29 In this letter to the Tsar, Avvakum tells that while reading the Gospel, he had a vision of his guardian angel and Christ the Lord, Who said to him: “Have no fear; I am with thee.”

30 The companions of Avvakum had their tongues cut off before they were sent into their place of deportation.

31 Tobacco was prohibited in Muscovy in the seventeenth century and is abhorred by the Old Believers up to the present time. The Metropolitan of Gaza (in Palestine) Pa•sius Ligarides, came to Russia as a theological expert in 1662.

32 Sham madness or folly was the essence of the ascetical form of life called, in Russian, “foolishness for Christ’s sake.” Such sham fools were very popular in Russia, particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, and many of them were canonized, although the Church in the seventeenth century began to prohibit such an ostentatious and disorderly way of life.

33 The famous council of 1666-7, in which two Greek patriarchs participated. The council condemned the schism of the Old Believers and deposed the Patriarch Nikon himself.

34 Deacon Theodore was banished to Pustozersk in 1668, some months later than Avvakum and his group (1667).

35 This name is given by Avvakum to the officer who executed his sons and friends in Mezen. He gives, besides, his proper name, Ivan Yelagin.

36 This is the end of the autobiography proper; what follows is the account of miracles wrought through Avvakum’s prayers during his life.

37 This is the delirium of the possessed, failing to recognize the place where he is.

38 All these miraculous events and many others here omitted are, indeed, related in the autobiography of Epiphanius.


3 Replies to “The Life of the Archpriest Avvakum by Himself”

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